"I have always imagined that Paradise will be some kind of library." ~ Jorge Luis Borges

Monday, March 31, 2014

Slice of Life: #WhyLib

Saturday, as I was heading off to deliver a presentation on Twitter as a Personal Learning Network (PLN), I got involved in a Twitter conversation where we were sharing how we had found our way to becoming Teacher Librarians. Within minutes an initiative was born, replete with its own hashtag, #whylib. Andy Plemmons, over at Barrow Elementary, has captured the interaction and explains the initiative here. Sherry Gick, over at Rossville Middle and High School, did a great job of getting us going with her postWe are all adding our stories to this Padlet. Please check both of these resources out and share your #whylib story.

As you can imagine, I was excited to have this hot-off-the-presses example of twitter as a PLN to bring to the presentation, but even more, I was excited about this new vehicle for growing our PLN. I believe that stories change us and help us grow,the stories that get printed in the books we share with students, the stories that live on our blogs, and the stories we tell each other. It is now twenty-four hours later and I have already read a few of my colleagues #whylib stories. The work these colleagues do every day is inspiring, but so are their journeys. I feel closer to these friends having read about how they found their way to teaching in a school library. I look forward to reading more #whylib stories in the coming weeks.

I'll start my story in the middle and, with some trepidation, share the Statement of Career Objectives that I submitted with my application for the School Library Teacher Program in the Simmons College Graduate School of Library and Information Science.

"One of the best aspects of growing up in the South End of Boston was the proximity to everything.  One favorite haunts was the Prudential Center, where I would go to get a raspberry-lime rickey from Brigham's Ice Cream Parlour along with a view of my world.  I would head up the elevators to the Skywalk, where I could see: the YWCA, the Cyclorama, Copley Square, the Bancroft Elementary School, the park, friends' houses, and the place that still is my favorite, the South End Branch of the Boston Public Library.  It is two blocks from my parents’ house.  Getting there for some years involved crossing through an abandoned block, which only made the trip more magical.  There it was -- an inviting oasis.  Judy Watkins was there to greet me with a warm smile and genuine interest in what I was reading.  She knew me and knew what I liked to read.  She was always happy to help find books or steer me in the right direction.  I was an avid reader and she played a significant role in that aspect of my life.

I never stopped reading.  I still love to read, but when I had children I realized how much I loved to read with others and to share books.  Reading for my own pleasure is different for me than reading for someone else’s pleasure.  I enjoy the books I read with my children, but I especially love their reaction to the books and the discussions that ensue. 

When thinking about the next phase of my life and what would make me happy, I keep coming back to books.  It is what I love most.  I want to be a school librarian.  I want to be the person to help a child find the book that opens the door for them and starts them on their journey through literature. There are  many books that have moved me or changed the way I think, how gratifying to think of  helping a child find the book that moves them or changes the way they think.    Having spent a year teaching reading, I am fully aware that reading does not come easily to all children.   It is hard to find a “just right book” in a subject area or genre that interests a child, but there are many good books available and I look forward to the challenge. 

I would like to start my career as an elementary school librarian.  First, I think there is a personal knowledge of and relationship with the students.  I have spent a significant amount of time in my children’s school library and have witnessed the relationship between the student population and the librarian.   Second, I think a school library is the core of a school.  It is an essential resource for students and faculty alike.  It is the gateway to information.  Third, I like the range of reading ability, from emerging readers to independent readers.  I enjoyed my time working in classrooms assisting with reading activities. Finally, I would enjoy being part of a team of educators.  Mostly though, I want to be like Judy Watkins and support children on their literary journey."

Eeep. It sounds pretentious, but at its core, is the reason I found my way to becoming a teacher librarian. I love books. I love to share all things book-ish.

What I didn't anticipate, when I wrote that essay, is how much my understanding of a school library program would change during my time at Simmons and every day since. I also didn't realize how skills gathered and honed during my earlier careers would feed into this one. My path has been a funny one - restaurant owner-Bread&Circus manager -community development consultant- readings specialist-teacher librarian.  It might look as if these occupations are not connected, but they are.

A few of my beliefs and how my occupations influenced them:

A Smile Goes a Long Way
I owned and operated restaurants with my husband (during college and for a short time after). I had started waiting on tables at fourteen and grew up understanding the value and impact of good service. Knowing what will make a person happy and being willing to find a way to make it happen can make any business better and any interactions better. This may seem like a stretch, but greeting people with a smile, being a problem solver, and understanding the impact of a person walking away feeling good about an interaction are just part of my being. A part of my being that serves me well in my school setting.

My Experience is Not Your Experience
My childhood was wonderful and unique, but it would not have been for everyone. The experiences I had growing up helped cement the idea that we are all individuals and cannot represent any other individual or group of people. I left the restaurant business and entered the field that I felt drawn to and that fulfilled my college studies. (I was a political science major with an economics minor.) I joined a community development consulting firm, where I worked in low- and moderate-income communities across the country developing loan consortia and programs to support minority economic development and affordable housing.  During my time working for the firm, I acted as a mediator, I helped bring the banks to the table, I led many meetings, and I wrote a lot. I spent a good deal of time listening to people's stories, each of our stories is unique. We are who we are because of the experiences we have had. Each student is an individual.

Technology is a Powerful Tool
In the restaurant, I was in charge of handling the accounts payable and the accounts receivable on a 1982 IBM computer (oh, this things was so new and so cool).  The flashing green lines held a mystery that I wanted to unravel. I went on to work on Lotus 123 spreadsheets and I was hooked.  By the time I got to the consulting firm we were writing our own code at the command prompt. I remember liking Microsoft Word over word perfect, but then getting so angry when Microsoft Word became all knowing and started to take the fun out of coding one's writing. The modem that we used to send files down to the office in Florida was an external box that required some serious set up. Technology has always been a tool for me, the fun now is seeing how the students can use technology as a tool to consume and produce content, express themselves, and share their understanding.

We are All Learners
I have earned a degree in each of my last three decades (20's, 30's and 40's).  I hope I never stop wanting to learn new things. I love being a student, working hard and puzzling out assignments. Unfortunately, I can't afford to be a student all the time, but I can be a learner all the time. Each day in my school library, I am learning beside the students and I am puzzling out lessons, units, activities. 

Stories Connect Us
Judy Watkins put into my hands The Dark is Rising and for that simple gesture, I will never forget her. This act planted a seed, a seed that sat dormant for twenty five years. During my time as a reading specialist, I found myself down in the library looking for books that would teach what the basal readers or other boring (I am sorry!) and didactic books that went along with the program were meant to be teaching. Daniel Pinkwater's The Big Orange Splot was a much more fun way to learn about blending, the same goes for learning about digraphs and trigraphs, inferring and sequencing. I think that good stories resonate within us and the things that we are learning during that process are more easily assimilated because of this. Stories connect us to learning in many ways. I come from a bookish family (my parents were avid readers), but the relationship that Judy Watkins had with me was different. She wasn't related to me, yet she knew me and she knew what I liked to read. I didn't have libraries in my schools until I reached 7th grade and even then, I don't think we went to the school library more than three times over the next six years. I wanted to be Judy, but I wanted to be that person in a school setting that I never had. 

There you have it, more or less, I became a teacher librarian because I love books and because I (somewhat egotistically) wanted to be the person who would put that one special book in another person's hand. But I have grown (thankfully), and become wiser (a process that i hope has not stopped!).  I am not sure that being the person to put the book in a person's hand is really my goal anymore. I think I just like being part of the bigger reader and story picture. 

I really just love going to work every day. I love going into a space filled with books and technology; a space where I get to explore and learn about the power of technology with the students; a space where I am able to a part of the magic that happens when reader and story connect, and, if I'm lucky, I get to see where the journey goes from there. 

April is School Library Month
a perfect time to share your #WhyLib story. 
You can find information on the initiative here
We are all adding our stories to this Padlet
What's holding you back? 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Celebrate: Third Graders

Discover. Play. Build.

Today I am celebrating my week with my third grade students.

Celebration Number One: Fannie in the Kitchen

During our scheduled library class we read Fannie in the Kitchen, written by Deborah Hopkinson  and illustrated by Nancy Carpenter. This book is much fun to read aloud, both text and illustrations sing.  ( I give it a #reedaloudrating of 10). We read it as a wrap up to our biography unit during women's history month. I have also used this book to connect to the cookbooks in on our Wonder Wall (nonfiction wall). The students will perform the reader's theatre script from Library Sparks this coming Monday.
Celebration Number Two: Suzy Kline

Suzy Kline came a visiting! That same day, Suzy Kline visited our school. She is a wonderful presenter - her rapport with the students demonstrates her background as a classroom teacher. Her visit is filled with stories, strategies, and anecdotes. It is also wonderfully interactive with skits and roles for students to play.

Celebration Number Three: Hour of Code

The students participated in Hour of Code on Thursday afternoon. I saw the three classes of students, back-to-back, and it was fabulous and fun. The productive din made my heart happy. 

There were other memorable and fun moments in the library this week, but these really stood out.

Happy Saturday All!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Hour of Code with 3rd Graders

What does an hour of code look like?

My library was filled with a productive buzz yesterday afternoon as three classes of third graders learned how to code.  We used these resources that I centrally-located on my Webpage.

The students were building on their coding capabilities by using logic, honing their spatial relations skills, and relying on math to solve the coding puzzles.  I cannot wait to learn code with the other students. #whydidiwaitsolong?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Slice of Life: A Surprising Discovery

The first graders have been learning about our biography neighborhood - where it is, how to identify the books, and how they are organized. Just as important, I hope they will understand that biographies are not just about famous people or celebrities. I encourage the students to use this definition when they think about biographies in our library. 
It's March, so I've been using this opportunity to book talk and read books about women. Yesterday, the students explored the biographies in the PebbleGo encyclopedia. I gave the students a quick access and navigation refresher and then told them the only parameter was the first biography they read had to be about a woman. 

I walked around the library taking a quick tally of the subjects of the biographies.  Not surprisingly, Jane Goodall topped the list with 19 readers, Wilma Rudolph came in a close second with 14 readers, after these  two women, the remainder of students read biographies on a wide range of women: Helen Keller, Michelle Obama, Rachel Carson, Pocahontas, Amelia Earhart, Rosa Parks, Clara Barton, Mother Theresa, Sacajawea, Mae Jemison, and Sally Ride. 

At one point I looked down and couldn't believe what I saw. 
“Mary Kay Ash.” PebbleGo. www.pebblego.com. March 25, 2014.

I did not know who Mary Kay Ash was until I read the article. Of course, if someone had said only Mary Kay, it would have rung a bell, but I never knew her last name and my mindset was not thinking about her.  I went back to see how the student had found this article.  It was under this heading:
Interesting that the two women with biographies under the "Inventors and Business Leaders" section both established women's cosmetics/beauty companies. I hope that there will be more biographies about women business leaders in the future.

This part of the lesson went as expected. I was surprised by what happened next - many students stayed within the parameters and continued reading biographies about women even though they had free reign. This small, but important choice made me happy.  I'd like to think that the more women are viewed as people who make a difference the better chance we have of making a difference.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

CELEBRATE this week: On finding the brake pedal

Discover. Play. Build.

Holy Cow. The past two and one half months have been a roller coaster without end, a ride with thrilling highs and unwelcome lows passing by at a hair-raising speed.  At least that is what it feels like reflecting back on that time, while I sit here drinking espresso and reading the paper (cover-to-cover, I might add).

The past few months have held wonderful events at school like Read Across America, World Read Aloud Day, and author Skype visits. Work-related, but outside I school I have attended two conferences and presented at a third. All fun, inspiring, and fulfilling, but all with a certain amount of planning and work behind the scenes.  These thrilling highs, and the joy I get from spending time with my students every day, have kept me going during another bout of hospitalizations and rehab for my father, who suffered a minor stroke. My father is still in rehab, but we hope to get him home soon.  

This is why this morning of sitting and reading the paper, and not preparing for anything out of the ordinary work-wise and knowing that my father is doing better, feels like a celebration. 

The roller coaster  has not really stopped. We've got three and one half months of school (and all the great occurrences there), plus I am presenting at a conference next Saturday.  But, this is today. It's the start of spring and it's partly sunny and forty-five degrees here. I am going to celebrate by working in the garden.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Mary on Horseback

During one of my book conversation lunches, I read from one of my favorite biographies, Mary on Horseback: Three Mountain Stories by Rosemary Wells.
Mary on Horseback cover shot
Mary on Horseback is the story of Mary Breckinridge, the founder of the Frontier Nursing Service.

Mary Breckinridge
This slim volume packs a punch.  Readers are invited into the lives of three people, whose very existence is changed by Mary Breckinridge.  With honesty and grace, Wells gently introduces the reader to life in Appalachia in the 1920's.  The ensuing three stories then bring this time and this place to life. 

I recently found this footage about the FNS and Mary:

In the past, I have paired
Mary on Horseback with That Book Woman by Heather Henson, the story of the packhorse librarians.
That Book Woman cover shot
The packhorse librarians were part of a Works Progress Administration program aimed at bringing books to the families of Appalachia.  You can see photographs of the librarians on this site from the New Deal Network.

A packhorse librarian delivering books
Biographies about women are not just to be shared during March, but it offers an opportunity to celebrate them.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

I Sleep Like a ...

Today the kindergarten students and I read, Sleep Like A Tiger.  
 The book is written by novelist and poet, Mary Logueand illustrated by the amazing artist Pamela Zagarenski.  Zagarenski was recognized with a Caldecott Honor for her work in this book. You can hear her talk about her illustrations here: TeachingBooks Interview.
Zagarenski's detailed and engaging illustrations celebrate this gentle story of a young girl who is not ready to go to bed, but who ultimately takes on the sleeping habits of the animals she and her parents are discussing. I thought it was a great way to lead into poetry month because the writing is lyrical and creates beautiful imagery for the reader.  (I'll just mention that these are the best fictional parents and wish I had read this book when my own children were young and not tired!)

Prior to reading the book, I asked the students to think about what type of animal they would describe themselves as when they are sleeping.  After reading the book, the students shared their ideas. I wish I had had them share their ideas prior to reading the book, as I did with last year's students. I think they were about to think more broadly. 

I used this opportunity to see how different media might influence their answers.

In one class, each student found a book about the animal he or she slept like and then used the iPads to record each other talking about his or her sleeping habits.

In another class, I created a generic slide show in Kid Pix and had the students record themselves explaining their sleeping habits.

In the third class, the students put pen to paper.




In the last class, the students their ideas in a whole group conversation.

"I sleep like a sheep because I walk in my sleep."

"I sleep like a tiger because I sleep a lot and I like to sleep in the morning."

"I sleep like a shark because I keep my eyes open."

"I sleep like a rabbit because I sleep quietly."

"I sleep like a snake because I curl up."

"I sleep like a whale because I rolled out of my bed."

"I sleep like a leopard because I roam around in my bed."

There were a surprising number of students who sleep quietly like rabbits or bunnies. I wonder if their parents would agree?

This is a beautifully-written, gorgeously-illustrated story, I am glad to have shared it with my students.  Have you used this book with your students? Please share your projects!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Biographies for Women's History Month

In honor of Women's History Month, here are biographies that I have enjoyed sharing with my students (all year long). I have included resources from TeachingBooks, publishers, and the authors along with footage that compliments the books.

I begin with Eleanor Roosevelt. She and Eleanor of Aquitaine top my list of most admired people.  
Eleanor: Quiet No More by Doreen Rappaport

Eleanor Roosevelt on What's My Line?
Elizabeth Blackwell
Wangari Maathai

Alice Roosevelt
What to do About Alice? by Barbara Kerley
Author webpage on Alice Roosevelt.
The song written for Alice Roosevelt:

Alice Roosevelt talking about her father's inauguration:

Sylvia Earle
An interview with Sylvia Earle:

Fannie Farmer
Fannie in the Kitchen by Deborah Hopkinson
Harriet Tubman
TeachingBooks Resources

An interview with Kadir Nelson:

Esther Morris
I Could Do That! Esther Morris Gets Women the Vote by Linda Arms White and Nancy Carpenter

Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Elizabeth Leads the Way! by Tanya Lee Stone
Teacher Guide
An interview with Tanya Lee Stone:

Mary Kingsley
This young girl's report on Mary Kingsley is impressive.

This is a preview of documentary about Mary Kingsley

Jane Goodall
Me...Jane by Patrick McDonnell

Annette Kellerman

Mermaid Queen by Shana Corey


Georgia O'Keefe
Georgia in Hawaii by Amy Novesky
A slideshow of her paintings:

Juliette "Daisy" Gordon Low
Here Come the Girl Scouts! by Shana Corey
Ida Lewis
The Bravest Woman In America by Marissa Moss

Other biographies about women who inspire:

Basketball Belles by  Sue Macy
Podcast with author 

Stone Girl, Bone Girl by Laurence Anholt 

Rosa by Nikki Giovanni

Shelley : Bound for Legend by Robert D. San Souci

Coretta Scott by Ntozake Shange

Hiromi’s Hands by Lynne Barasch

America’s Champion Swimmer: The Story of Gertrude Ederle by David Adler

Only Passing Through by Anne Rockwell

When Marian Sang by Pam Munoz Ryan

Wilma Unlimited by Kathleen Krull

"Skyping with Stephen McCranie is a good way to learn about...

...a different way of writing that you don't learn in class."

What inspired these fourth graders to say these things?
A visit with

of the Mal and Chad series

Stephen kept 100 fourth graders in rapt attention
on this Wednesday afternoon.

He shares important messages about writing and creativity:

"Give your characters a problem to solve. 
It will make your story more interesting."

"Making mistakes is natural and critical to learning."

"Think about shapes when you are drawing characters"

"Writer's block is not that you cannot write, 
it is that you are not writing what you want to write or 
like what you are writing."
The students loved guessing these characters based upon their shapes. Mickey Mouse was guessed before the second ear was drawn.

To put advice to the test, the students gave Stephen a character, an activity and a problem. 

Stephen shared his screen so the students could watch him draw.
Our young character wants a limo, so he's gotten a job selling chicken at a stand. Unfortunately there are some very hungry dogs about, fortunately he has dog spray and a very LARGE cat. Luckily, they all realize it was a big misunderstanding and live happily ever after.

Want to see and hear more of our visit?

The students left excited and ready to begin creating their own stories. I can't wait to read them.

Thank you, Stephen!